Rebecca-Anne Withey: Finding my deaf voice

Posted on January 26, 2018

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I didn’t write this quote. I wish I did. I found it on the Internet a while back (author unknown) and it’s become a favourite of mine.

It’s important to me because I recognise that there are aspects of me that aren’t really deemed ‘normal’ by society. And I’ve become aware of the penchant most people have to want to fit in… to blend… to look (for want of a better word) ‘normal.’

But being a deaf, hearing aid wearer and sign language user, I’m automatically in a minority group. And I tend to stand out in certain “Hearing-y” groups. So over the years I figured hey, why not just accept the deaf-rences about myself and get on with it? (Ha! Difference Deaf-rence, see what I did there?)

Yet I have something to confess. One of my ‘deaf-rences’ was actually quite a tricky one for me to accept. It was…. drumroll please… my voice.

You see, growing up in mainstream schools and being constantly oral meant that I was unknowingly trying too hard to sound ‘hearing.’

I had speech therapy, speaking practice and even -as a teenager at boarding school -elocution lessons. (Note to readers: my Black Country accent still exists very proudly)

Answering the register in class, reading out loud, asking the teacher for the phonic ear at the end of every blooming class… I used to worry about whether I was pronouncing words correctly and I had to make extra effort with the high pitched consonants I couldn’t hear; the shushes the ch-ch the t-t-t sounds.

(And who knew that Charlotte is pronounced with a Sh but chocolate is a Ch!? It took me a few years… Awks!)

I remember the horror I felt the day that someone said I sounded deaf. I can’t recall what it was in reference to but I remember feeling absolutely gutted.

The speech therapists always used to say “your speech is really good.” They didn’t add “…for a deaf person.”

And then a few years later when I was working on Grange Hill some director exclaimed “you don’t sound that deaf you just sound like you’ve got a bit of a cold!”

I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted.

When I asked teachers and family members what I sounded like, they all said the same… “you speak so well, it’s very clear!” Yet in my head I was thinking “for a deaf person, right?”

I took it hard. I still felt hearing. I was surrounded by hearing people, hearing culture, hearing-y life. But I didn’t sound like them. I wanted to be the same. I didn’t know it at the time but I was fighting an impossible battle. And the day I lipread a school girl tell her friend that “Beckie speaks weird” my confidence plummeted even more.

I hated speaking in public in class, so much that I used to shake if I had to. My hearing friends would always order food for me if we went out to the cinema or for a bite to eat. I suppose in that stage of my life I didn’t want to be ‘outed’ by my voice as a deafie. I hadn’t found who I was.

I recently watched the channel 4 documentary on Mary Hare School “Life and Deaf” and noticed how the issues of clear speech and confidence in speaking were highlighted there too.

In the programme there were twin girls who were preparing for University. Both with very good, clear, fluent speech. But one in particular lacked confidence when it came to asking for things in public. She was at a shoe store, and wanted to try some shoes on in her size. But she didn’t want to ask the assistant so she got her hearing sister to speak for her.

Watching this I know that a lot of my deaf friends were like whhhaaaat she speaks really well, she should just go and ask! At least she has clear speech! 

But I could relate. The ironic thing is even if you’re a deaf person with clear speech, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re confident at using your voice.

Sometimes it’s not your voice in question that’s the issue but it’s your concern as to whether you will understand the response. So your mind figures it’s better not to even ask… it’s a “no fireworks, no disasters” kind of thinking.

But assertiveness and acceptance of your deaf-rences does come with time. And I have every faith that the girl in question will find her way. But as she mentioned her insecurity about telling strangers she was deaf and asking them to repeat themselves, I’m guessing a little part of her hasn’t accepted her uniqueness just yet.

I saw a lot of myself in that girl (hence this blog!) and it reminded me of how much I’ve changed. Even when I returned to my secondary school for an awards night 3 months after I started at a deaf school, my head of year commented to my Mum how much I had appeared to grow in confidence. All because I said “hello” to him without being spoken to first.

It was mixing with deaf peers and finding a deaf community that got the ball rolling on my journey to self-acceptance. I accepted that my speech, although clear, would never be like a hearing persons, so what’s the use in trying to be or in hiding away?

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. But bit by bit I said “duck it” (or something along those lines) to all of my hang ups about sounding deaf and I found the voice that I hid away for too long.

I never did approach that girl at school who said I spoke weird. At the time I was too mortified to even consider a comeback. But if I could turn back time … “me, weird? At least I’m not boring…” 

Ha. Childish, moi?

Rebecca-Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.

She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. 

Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki. 

She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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